With conflict continuing for four decades, the protection environment in Afghanistan continues to deteriorate. Armed conflict and disasters severely affect the civilian population, where children, women, people with disability, and other vulnerable people are exposed to various protection risks, including violence, exploitation, abuse and neglect.
In this context, the Child Protection AoR objective is to ensure that girls and boys affected by humanitarian impact of the crisis (including IDPs) receive integrated and appropriate child protection emergency services including psychosocial and case management support.
2021 Response plan in numbers
Afghanistan remains one of the deadliest countries in the world for civilians. Conflict continues to threaten people’s physical and mental wellbeing. Some 5,939 civilians were either killed or injured in the first nine months of 2020. Children comprise more than half (53 per cent) of the IDP, returnee and other population groups affected by the humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan. For the fifth year in a row, Afghanistan is listed as the deadliest conflict for children.Grave child rights violations are a significant concern, with children at risk of being killed and injured, recruited into armed groups, detained, abducted and exposed to sexual violence. From July 2019 to June 2020, the UN verified 1,497 such violations against children, highlighting persistent trends of violence. This included 1,164 verified incidents of killing and maiming, 155 attacks on schools in 16 provinces, and 326 verified incidents of child recruitment into armed forces and groups across 31 provinces of Afghanistan. 2020 saw a three-fold increase in cases of recruitment and use of children by armed forces as compared to 2019. Child recruitment cases were most prominent in the country’s northern and north-eastern areas and are likely to remain an under-estimation. Protection partners have seen rising trends of families being either requested, threatened or coerced to join armed fighting. These patterns have been witnessed in both government and non-government-controlled areas and among criminal networks. In the first half of 2020, children made up more than half of total civilian mine casualties, including those caused by improvised devices and ERW (313 out of 579 casualties).
The socio-economic pandemic has fuelled harmful coping mechanisms such as child labour, early marriage and child recruitment, while simultaneously straining the capacities of families and communities to protect children. The provinces of highest prevalence of child labour are Farah (49 per cent) and Hilmand (33 per cent). The highest percentage of child marriage was reported in Faryab (35 per cent), Paktya (25 per cent), and Kunduz (22 per cent) although these figures are not likely to represent the full scale of this situation. According to the 2020 WoA Assessment, 59 per cent of key informants in hard-to-reach areas across 120 districts said they know at least one girl under the age of 16 that was married off in the preceding three months. The same assessment further showed that 19 per cent of informants reported family separation by marriage (with the child being taken away from their family to be married), with the highest figures being reported by refugee (41 per cent) and IDP households (30 per cent). The most common reason for children to leave their families is to seek better job opportunities. Out of the 19 per cent of the households who reported that children are not living in the home, 65 per cent report that the child migrated out of the country to seek employment. Assessments indicate that during situations of hostilities and displacement, children with disabilities are at heightened risk of separation from their families, violence, abuse, neglect and exploitation. Many struggle with marginalisation, stigma and discrimination, while displacement impedes dignified access to basic services. Child Protection assessments show that all the aforementioned child protection-related risks and vulnerabilities have been exacerbated during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Due to underfunding, intensifying conflict and recurrent natural disasters, the Protection Cluster has had limited opportunities to invest in more environmental and infrastructure aspects of protection, preventive activities or the capacity building and empowerment of existing national and local structures. This also includes supporting communities to protect themselves and employ positive coping mechanisms in response to shocks. It further includes implementing all-encompassing child and adolescent protection programmes in HTR areas, to respond to complex needs. A focus on more long-term programmes, facilitated by predictable multi-year funding, would allow the Cluster to implement resilience-building activities that prevent and mitigate against threats such as GBV.
In 2021, Child Protection partners will scale-up life-saving services to prevent, mitigate and respond to abuse, neglect, exploitation and violence faced by girls and boys. The Child Protection Sub-Cluster will prioritise the provision of equitable and safe access to quality services for all conflict- and shock-affected children, including children with special needs and children with disabilities. This will be enhanced through expanding child protection specialised services for the most vulnerable children, including children who have been recruited by parties to the conflict, children who have been put to work, child GBV survivors and children at risk of GBV, and unaccompanied and separated children. Child Protection partners will promote the use of the Minimum Standards of Child Protection in Humanitarian Action across the response. Activities will be provided through fixed and mobile Child Friendly Centres. PSS will be provided to children and their caregivers. The most vulnerable children will be identified and referred to other services (including development sector services) through the existing case management system. In 2021, the Case Management SOPs on GBV survivors will be enforced, and child protection activities will be implemented in close coordination with local communities involving community structures and adolescents as agents of change.